For the second time in Toastmasters International history, three women earned all three World Championship of Public Speaking® trophies. They were among the eight contestants in the final round of the International Speech Contest, which begins at the club level with 30,000 speakers vying to advance to the international stage at convention. This year, the semifinals and World Championship were held online and in person in Nassau, Bahamas.
Jocelyn Tyson, Nisha Shivram, DTM, and Maryam Ganni, placed first, second, and third, respectively, and the three women drew speech inspiration from their everyday lives. From chronicling a triathlon race to dissecting an airport encounter to reflecting on a vision diagnosis, the speeches were captivating, and all had a message to share about the good in humanity and the confidence we can find in ourselves.
Learn about your 2023 World Champions, how they reached the final stage, and the lessons their stories can teach audiences around the world.
On August 3, 2023, Jocelyn Tyson started a new job. She also began packing her belongings to move from New Jersey to Maryland. Then, on August 19, she won the 2023 World Championship of Public Speaking. A whirlwind of events, to say the least.
Tyson explains that all of these events, especially becoming World Champion, have been surreal. “I haven’t had the chance to really nest into this space,” she says, while living out of suitcases two weeks after returning from The Bahamas. “It has been difficult. I will not say that it hasn’t been a bit stressful.”
Despite a few sleepless nights, Tyson is eager to take on opportunities to promote Toastmasters, meet with clubs, and share her experiences and message. “This is a great opportunity. No one really gets this,” she says of earning first place. “The heart is willing.”
Fortunately, Tyson has lots of support. District 38 Public Relations Manager Hannah Merschen is helping her schedule Toastmasters engagements. Tyson’s club, Voorhees Toastmasters, a hybrid club in Voorhees, New Jersey, is also a constant in her life and has helped her since she first joined in 2021.
From the start, her fellow members told her she had a knack for speaking and encouraged her to embrace her authentic self. She explains they told her: “Stick with who you are, allow yourself to shine, and people get to see that energy.” It was valuable advice that benefited her early in Toastmasters and throughout the speech contest.
In this episode of The Toastmasters Podcast, the hosts speak with 2023 World Champion of Public Speaking Jocelyn Tyson. Click play to find out the back story behind her speech, how she felt moments before stepping on the stage, and what's in store for the World Champ.
Tyson’s path to the international stage didn’t take long. A Pathways project led her to attend the 2022 District 38 Annual Conference, where she watched the District speech contest. She was amazed by the talent she saw, but also had the thought, Maybe next year I can get here.
She voiced that idea to her club members and mentor Rhonda Young, DTM, and all encouraged her to try. Her 2023 speech contest goal was to reach the District level of the International Speech Contest. Then she surpassed that, advancing from the District contest to the region quarterfinals and then to the semifinals, and ultimately becoming the World Champion of Public Speaking the first year she ever competed. (This despite suffering a severe bout of nerves just before going onstage in the championship round. More on that later.)
“Toastmasters opens your world to so many different kinds of people, backgrounds, jobs, everything.”—Jocelyn Tyson
Her goal in delivering her championship speech? “I wanted to make my message relatable,” Tyson says, adding that she wanted people to think, “That was a great story. I related, I found it funny, or I found it captivating.”
Of course, she drew on her club to get feedback on her delivery. She also attended other Toastmasters clubs to get their thoughts on how she could adjust her gestures and inflections. Tyson even gained insights from non-Toastmasters, because she wanted the speech to engage everyday people who may not know the ins and outs of public speaking.
Through it all, her club mentor, Young, who is also the current District 38 Director, was a constant anchor and helped her stay true to her original message. Tyson respected that Young always said, “This is yours. Take my feedback as yours to decide on.” She never said that Tyson must do a certain gesture or change a word—it was always a suggestion that she could incorporate or not.
With her authenticity and dramatic flair, Tyson captured the audience’s attention on the international stage with her championship speech, “Have You Been There?” In it, she takes listeners through her experience competing in her first triathlon after hitting a milestone birthday.
Battling the Inner Critic
While actively speaking onstage, Tyson’s confidence came through with her dramatic storytelling style and large movements and gestures. However, just before stepping on the stage, it was a different story.
The inner critic she introduced to the audience was out in full force, and she was a ball of nerves. Her stomach was completely in knots, and she was “sick nervous.” From backstage, she could hear the competitors performing ahead of her, including Maryam Ganni, the third-place winner. “I have to go on after that?” she shares of her thoughts at the time. “I’m in the back listening to this greatness.”
Part of her nerves came from the realization that she made it all the way to the championship without a coach. Many of the individuals she met through this process had been through the speech contests before and sought professional coaching to enhance their abilities. Tyson had decided to see how far she could get on her own for this first contest season.
“My inner critic was saying, ‘These people are amazing. You’re not even coached by the greatness! How are you back here?’”
With all this going on, she paused and took a deep breath. She reminded herself how well she knew her speech. She was speaking from an experience she had—one she had wanted to share since she joined Toastmasters. This is authentically you. You were there. Visualize being at that race and tell these people how it was. Breathe and tell your story. And then she stepped onstage.
Cultivating Confidence and Connection
After finally silencing her inner critic, Tyson realized she had been battling the very lesson she was emphasizing in the speech: “Truly push yourself. Try new things. Don’t listen to that inner critic, because truly you don’t know what could happen.” She doubted herself all the way to the World Championship of Public Speaking and almost let her inner critic stifle her opportunity to win.
So what is Tyson’s inner go-getter telling her now? “Let’s get out there and let’s start sharing that message!”
Now that Tyson has affirmed her abilities, she’s ready to settle in her new home, new job, and new Toastmasters title, so she can figure out how to share more messages with the world, including the benefits to be gained from joining this organization.
“Toastmasters opens your world to so many different kinds of people, backgrounds, jobs, everything,” Tyson says. In fact, her new job came about because of a Toastmasters connection. She joined her club to begin to navigate the public speaking space, because she knew the organization could give her the platform to begin talking to larger audiences and finesse her speeches.
Now, she’s learning Spanish, with the goal of fluency. She ultimately wants to give a speech in Spanish to a Spanish-speaking club, though she laughs as she explains that may not happen this year with everything else she’s juggling. Tyson also wants to earn the Distinguished Toastmaster designation.
Her overall goal as a Toastmaster and the newest World Champion of Public Speaking is simple: “I want to encourage more people to get out there and do the contest. Just make it happen.”
Her goal with both the triathlon and competing in the World Championship was to “push myself past what I felt comfortable with, and I think that is where you get the most growth.”
Growth continues to be a key focus of Tyson’s. In the World Champions Showcase—where the three top finishers are interviewed—she told moderator and former World Champion Mark Brown that her word for what she is looking for next is “grow.” She later explains that this win is a sprout in her garden. She plans to continue to cultivate her connections, work hard in her new job, and share positive messages. “I want to see how this garden will grow,” she says. “I can take my flowers and share them with other people.”
Nisha Shivram, DTM
“It still feels like a dream,” Nisha Shivram, DTM, says of placing second in the World Championship of Public Speaking. “A result of years of hard work, grit, and determination.”
A Toastmaster since 2007 and lifelong public speaker, Shivram had made an earlier appearance on the international stage. In 2022, she reached the finals of the International Speech Contest and learned some lessons that helped her place this year.
“Last year during my semifinals presentation, I observed how the audience encourages the speaker with their responses, especially with their laughter. That made me work on the humor in my speech this year and I am glad that I succeeded,” she says. This year, she began her speech asking if the audience was excited to be there and continued to engage with them throughout.
She also said she learned to remain calm and composed on the international stage.
Shivram began competing in speech contests when she was 31 years old. At 43, she earned the second-place spot—a valuable reminder to people everywhere that dreams take time to reach. “When you have a dream, there will be obstacles. There will be responsibilities,” she says. “But if you have a dream that is really close to your heart, do not give up. It will take time, but it will happen.”
An Experience to Share
This year’s speech, “Swipe,” was inspired by an event that happened last year when Shivram traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, from her home in Doha, Qatar, for the 2022 Toastmasters International Convention. A woman named Felly approached her in the London airport asking for help, as this was her first time traveling to America. It was also Shivram’s first solo voyage to the country, but she ended up assisting Felly, who did not have a credit card.
The experience reminded the second-place winner of an important lesson: “The sole purpose of our existence is to help each other. We all need each other to strive, thrive, and survive, so keep offering a helping hand and let everyone finish their journeys beautifully,” she explains to the Toastmaster.
She continued her speech to explain how we all have cards—not the plastic ones in our wallets, but ones of experience and expertise, contacts and connections, and time and kind words. Her message: Be sure to swipe those cards regularly to assist those around you.
Strong Support Systems
As Shivram was crafting her story and the reminder to help others, she gained help herself.
Led by Immediate Past Division Director Pradeep Menon, DTM, her club formed a “transformation council,” dedicated to the growth of speech contest contestants in District 116. This group of club members arranged special speech sessions for Shivram and shared feedback throughout her contest journey. “I had a session where the speech was evaluated based on the International Speech Contest judging criteria and critical feedback was provided,” she notes.
Ultimately, Shivram feels this group led her to win at the District level and succeed in the World Championship. Menon even traveled to The Bahamas to support her.
Lance Miller, 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, also supported Shivram and coached her through the process, helping her tweak her speech to ensure she would connect with a global audience. She credits Miller for making her message worth remembering and bringing more clarity into her speech.
“If you have a dream that is really close to your heart, do not give up. It will take time, but it will happen.”—Nisha Shivram, DTM
During the World Champions Showcase after the final round, Shivram said, “When we stand on a global stage, we are addressing a lot of people from different parts of the world and it is very important that our stories, even the minute details, they should be able to connect with that.” She mentioned adjusting her speech and using the more familiar “dollar” rather than the Qatari riyal.
Shivram had one mentor who has been helping her with contest preparation since 2011—Vinodh K Pisharom, DTM. “He has been a great mentor, guide, and coach,” she says of her fellow Talking Matters Toastmasters Club member. She encourages all future speech contest contestants to find an experienced coach to help them see the things they need to improve upon.
Learning Cultural Lessons
From strong club support to excellent mentors and coaches, Shivram is grateful for all her Toastmasters experiences and how they have shaped her. “[Toastmasters] is one place where we interact with people from different backgrounds,” she explains. “Something that is fine in my culture may be inappropriate in other cultures. So as a Toastmaster I have learned to respect other’s cultures, their viewpoints, pay attention to others, and this has eventually improved my social skills, making me a better human being.”
Of course, her family was also a large part of her support system. Though not a Toastmaster, her husband fully backs her on her speech contest journey. As she practiced this year, her son, 8, and daughter, 6, served as her timer and contest chair, respectively. “When all these people are involved, it becomes easy for me to practice,” she explains of her family’s support.
She has great respect for other speakers, including those she competed against throughout the International Speech Contest. She shares this advice with future competitors, “Never ever underestimate your fellow contestants just because you have competed and won many times. Support each other and help them grow.”
Shivram also says she’ll be back competing in 2024. “The stubborn side of me will not let me stop without achieving my goal. So, I will be competing again as my race is still unfinished.”
Maryam Ganni of Laval, Quebec, Canada, earned third place in the 2023 World Championship of Public Speaking, and she doesn’t plan on stopping there. She says the most important lesson she learned during the contest process is “to appreciate the commitment and preparation needed to compete at that level: it was an eye-opener—no pun intended! Wherever you place, it is not the end. The only question there is to ask is ‘now what?’”
Ganni has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic condition that affects a person’s retina and causes gradual vision loss. Over time the disease can cause the visual field to degenerate and narrow until it reaches the size of a small hole similar to a straw hole and for some, completely disappears. Ganni explains that she has blind spots in different places which cause her to see straw-sized spots, therefore, limiting the amount she can actually see. “I describe it like constantly seeing flashes, fireworks, and special effects! This is constantly changing and subject to worsening as time goes by, as it is progressive.” Those with RP experience it differently depending on their specific gene.
In her World Championship speech, Ganni talks about her life before and after her diagnosis, but the goal was to remind the audience that we can all respect and love one another even with all the differences between us. Her speech titled “You Have No Idea” chronicles her relationship with her father and how his love for her narrowed their communication gap. She jokes that her dad speaks Arabic while she speaks millennial, but that never stopped her father from expressing his love.
“We might have different views, might have lived different experiences, have different opinions and ways to see the world, and might not see eye to eye—pun intended,” Ganni notes. “But there is hope to make different choices, and create inner peace by sharing three words universally understood: I love you.”
Her other goal? To honor her father.
A Permanent Reminder
After returning home from The Bahamas, she showed her father, Sami, the video of her speech. She says he laughed at her impersonation of him and agreed that she nailed some of his key phrases. Then he said, “You have no idea how much I love you and am proud of you.”
While his unwavering love has been a constant in Ganni’s life, Mr. Ganni has surprised his daughter before. In 2017, she asked her father to write out the words “I love you” in Arabic. At the time, she told him it was because she needed to brush up on her Arabic writing, however, she was really planning to have the phrase tattooed on her wrist.
When she returned to see her father later that day, Ganni still had the protective plastic covering on the fresh tattoo. He told her to take it off and she explained it was a real tattoo and would be on her wrist forever. Ganni recalls the exact moment: “This is when he did something that surprised me and warmed my heart. He put his hand on it and kissed his hand. It meant everything even though there were no more words exchanged. I guess it meant I got his blessings for it!”
An Army of Support
While her father was a great guide throughout her life, she found mentors within Toastmasters as well.
Ganni met Scott McLaughlin when she joined Tunney’s Toastmasters in 2021. Within a week of becoming a member, he encouraged her to compete in the speech contest. Of course, she hadn’t completed the Pathways requirements to officially compete, but the club allowed Ganni to share a speech at the club level, and she won! She didn’t advance that year, but it lit a fire in her and convinced McLaughlin that his instincts were correct—Ganni had the potential to compete on the world stage.
The next year, the duo banded together to ensure Ganni completed Pathways Levels 1 and 2 and practiced consistently. McLaughlin said, “It’s 20% tactics, strategies, and techniques, and 80% psychology.” He also introduced her to some world class coaches and former World Championship of Public Speaking finalists: Verity Price, DTM, AS; Darren LaCroix, AS; Alexandre Matte, DTM; and Mark Brown.
“Create inner peace by sharing three words universally understood: I love you.”—Maryam Ganni
In addition, Ganni received the support of her home club, other Toastmasters clubs, and District 61 members. She also formed a friendship and mentorship with Patricia Calixte, who Ganni says “supported me all along but especially during the contest days in The Bahamas.”
In fact, Ganni called Calixte about a month before the World Championship at a loss. She shared the pile of options she had for speeches, and with her friend’s urging and Matte and Price’s support, scrapped it all and wrote up “You Have No Idea” on August 2—just over two weeks before the competition.
Ganni learned the value of strong mentors and coaches. LaCroix, 2001 World Champion, told her just hours before stepping on the championship stage, “You have an army of people who are supporting you.” She says, “He couldn’t be more right. This is exactly how I felt.”
Ultimately, with the support of so many, Ganni finished the contest with the notion that the only thing that could stand in her way was herself.
As she said in her semifinal speech, “Losing my sight was not the worst thing that could’ve happened to me. The worst thing that could’ve happened to me was to lose myself, was to lose my dreams, was to lose my vision of the future.” Her key takeaway for others?
“No matter what, never lose yourself. No matter what, be unstoppable.”
Laura Mishkind is associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.